Female Genital Mutilation

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Also called female circumcision, FGC is defined as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether or not for non-medical reasons” (UNAIDS et al., 2008, p. 1). Some advocates for FGC eradication refer to the procedure as female genital mutilation because of the extent of damage it can cause to a woman’s reproductive organs. There four classifications of FGC that have been established by international agencies. Classification of Types of FGC

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce (clitoridectomy). Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and positioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterization. (UNAIDS et al., 2008.) Many people consider FGC a violation of human rights because it is performed on girls and young women who are not yet adults and so are unable to make informed decisions for themselves. Many also see it as an act of gender-based violence because it causes lifelong harm to females (UNAIDS et al., 2008). The practice of FGM is problematic at both individual and societal levels. As a socio-cultural practice, FGM is both a manifestation of and a contributing mechanism to the larger system of inequitable gender relations between men and women (Lewnes, 2005). For instance, FGC responds to gender norms that say women should be sexually pure. This norm is enforced through measures that endanger girls’ and women’s health and cause needless suffering. The consequences of FGM for individual women are particularly relevant in the context of health programs. Immediate consequences of FGM can include acute pain, severe bleeding, shock, psychological trauma, infection (including tetanus), and death (WHO, 2000). The long-term health consequences also can be severe, including obstetric complications; gynecological problems, such as menstrual disruption, infertility, and painful intercourse; urinary blockage and retention of urine; sexual dysfunction due to fear and pain; and psychological conditions, such as depression (WHO, 2000). Moreover, as recent data from a World Health Organization (WHO) multi-country study shows, women who have undergone FGM are significantly more likely than those who have not to experience adverse childbirth outcomes, including post-labor hemorrhage, episiotomy, and extended hospital stays resuscitation of the infant, and inpatient perinatal death. Furthermore, there is clinical evidence that type II FGC that resulted in infant mortality, urinary incontinency, sexual dysfunction, and inability to release menstruation, particularly in cases of female cutting that turned into Type III FGC due to scarring. Given that Africa’s maternal and child health indicators are among the worst in the world, the serious and sometimes fatal effects of FGM must not be taken lightly. Globally, FGM is practiced across all educational and social levels and across varying religions (FeldmanJacobs and Clifton, 2010). There appear to be three types of overlapping rationales for the practice— sociological, spiritual and religious, and hygienic and aesthetic. 1. Social rationale. Complex social norms and beliefs perpetuate the practice of FGM. Some people believe that the clitoris prevents women from reaching maturity and having the right to identify with their age group, the ancestors, and the human race (WHO, 1999). Some women and men feel it is their duty to cut their daughters so that they will be prepared for adulthood and marriage (Lewnes, 2005). Many people also believe that women who have undergone FGC are...
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